Saturday, 27 June 2015

A night out in Oxford As You Like It

Last night Jane and I enjoyed an evening out in Oxford. We had gone to see  one of my favourite plays, As You Like It. It was an open-air production in the courtyard of Oxford Castle, with a small company and minimal props. However, it was a clear night and the moon rose behind the castle keep, providing whatever might have been lacking in atmospheric scenery.

In case you don't know, the plot is as satisfactorily convoluted as any Shakespeare comedy, involving a usurping duke banishing his more likeable brother from court into the Forest of Arden, where other courtiers including Rosalind, the bad duke's niece, and her best friend, Celia, his daughter, and Orlando, Rosalind's would-be boyfriend, also end up.... The two women are the heart of the play (with Rosalind having the most lines of a female character in Shakespeare) and they were last night. The last time we saw As You Like It was at Stratford in the RSC production which starred Pippa Nixon as an outstanding Rosalind in 2013. She displayed all the emotional complexities of her character. So it's perhaps unfair of me to compare Laura O'Mahony's winsome and lively portrayal with such a stellar performance. Of course it did not quite match. But Abigail Preece's Celia was, to my mind, as intelligent and interesting as Joanna Horton's at the RSC - a lovely performance. This Rosalind and Celia were equally convincing bosom pals.
Photo from GB Theatre

There were some production details with which  I was not comfortable. The major one was to exchange Duchesses for Dukes (both played by the versatile Clare Denton). Although the director, Edward Blagrove, explained it as one holding on to power "in a masculine way" while "the other offers an open and sharing world in her feminine guise", it somehow did not convince me. A major element of the play is how Rosalind proves herself ultimately more effective than all the men - hence Shakespeare gives her the epilogue. To replace them with a woman took away a visual symbol, and theatre is both verbal and visual. The result is that this Rosalind is made to appear somewhat light-weight. Another niggle for me was the caricature that was made of Sir Oliver, the priest. It was one of those outdated annoying TV portrayals (like Derek Nimmo in All Gas and Gaiters) which goes for cheap laughs. The play does not call for it.
BMH production of Macbeth at the castle

However, my reservations cannot detract from what was a thoroughly enjoyable evening by a talented small company of actors. (Watch out for Wayne Browne as Touchstone's bit of audience involvement!) It runs until 4th July and on the night we saw it there was still room for more audience, even though it's an intimate venue. If you've never seen the play - and even if you have, of course! - , I recommend making the trip. The weather forecast is good next week! The details are here.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Oxford MND Centre

I've often referred to our excellent MND Care Centre in Oxford. It's based in the West Wing of the JR Hospital and the Centre of Enablement at the Nuffield. About a month ago I had my annual check-up there, seeing both the consultant, Professor Kevin Talbot, and the OT, Jenny Rolfe. The beauty of the place is its humanity and its flexibility. Once you're signed in, you're met by a real person, rather like cabin crew on a plane, but it's someone who has first-hand experience in caring for a person with MND, and they keep you informed about who you are going to see, how long you might have to wait (usually not long), who you'll see next and so on. It's so much better than the impersonal announcement over a tannoy or that annoying digital pinging display summoning you to a consulting room. The MND Centre's air hostesses are all volunteers - so valuable.

Mark Stone in the sort of wheelchair I hope to get
Anyway there are two points to this story. One is that talking to Jenny about fitting hoists to get electric wheelchairs into the boot of our car, she was anxious for me not to have an unsuitable hand-me-on chair and recommended a proper neuro-wheelchair with a folding back, which are now being made. She subsequently came out with an engineer to show me the possibilities. I'm now in the process of choosing and looking forward to Jane not having to lug my manual wheelchair in and out - and not having to push me whenever we're away from home.

The cyclists with the reception party outside the hospital (Photos: Lesley Ogden)

The other point is that we then learned about the sponsored cycle ride being done by the Centre's nurse, Rachael, the two consultants and a physio. They started off from the MNDA headquarters in Northampton and went via the centres in Milton Keynes, Aylesbury, Reading, Swindon ending in Oxford - a total of 170 miles, including a gruelling section along the ancient drovers' road, the Ridgeway. Since we'd been the recipients of a generous gift of tickets to Wimbledon, we felt the least we could do was to sponsor them - apart from the fact that we are continually grateful for the care I receive from the MNDA and the NHS. So far they have exceeded their target but just in case here's the Just Giving link. In fact we joined a group to welcome them back at Sunday lunchtime in front of the JR's West Wing. Quite an achievement! And they'd be back in clinic the next day. "Dedication is what you need," as Mr Akabusi used to say.